Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Best Friend I Ever Had

Erin and I met on the first day of preschool.  We became best friends, and spent all of our time together.  When we were 5, Erin was diagnosed with leukemia.

I can't imagine how hard it was for her, but it was also rough for me.  I couldn't really understand everything that was going on.  Erin was in the hospital and there was nothing I could do but visit her.

When she came home, I went over to her house as often as I could.  She couldn't go anywhere because it could make her sick.  We played Barbies and American Girl.  She had a Nintendo with Zelda.  I was jealous that she had 9 stuffed golden retrievers, 2 of which were bigger than us.

Whenever I came over, the first thing I did was put on a mask and wash my hands.  We both knew I hated the mask.  It was stifling and made me feel like I couldn't breathe.  Every time Erin left the room, I ripped it off and gulped all the fresh, cool air I could before she came back.

Dress up may have been our favorite thing of all.  She had a huge bin of clothes, and I brought some of mine over too.  I always wore my mom's pastel green, floral bridesmaid dress.  Erin always dolled up in dresses, boas, and hats.  She always went to the bathroom to change.

One day, we wrestled in our dress up clothes.  We were laughing and squealing.  I tackled Erin and her hair fell off. Time stopped.  I was sure I made all her hair fall out.  She was embarassed.  We both cried.  That incident made our bond even stronger.

Erin relapsed.  We went to the hospital together.  I came with her to her doctor appointments and physical therapy when her legs atrophied and she could only walk on her toes.  We watched the Sound of Music while she got weighted casts on her legs (I can't watch this movie now because of all the memories it brings back).  We were together through every step of her illness.  Although she was the one physically experiencing it, I was affected too.

She came back to school when we were 9.  Everything changed.  We drifted apart.  She had other friends and I was no longer needed.  By high school, we spent no time together.  I haven't seen her in 10 years.

My memories of childhood are bittersweet.  I love how close we were, but I'm sorry it was because Erin was sick.  I'm sorry no one else wanted to hang out with the girl who had cancer.  We had so much fun together, but much of the time we were both uncomfortable.  She had to deal with chemo, and medicine, and countless other things.  And that mask still haunts me to this day.  I can't wear a scarf or a turtleneck because I get the same stifling feeling of the mask.

The experience made me a better person.  I learned the world was bigger than me, and that bad things happen to good people.   I had an amazing friend, and our bond was incredibly close.  I  learned compassion and empathy.  I learned that other kids can be selfish and mean because they don't understand something.  When we grew apart, I learned what it felt like to have my heart broken.  Not even my broken engagement 5 months before the wedding hurt as much as my lost friendship with Erin.  But if I could do the whole thing over again, I would.

1 comment:

  1. What a moving and beautifully written story. Illness is so hard to understand as a child. Even though it seems worse to be seriously sick young, I wonder if in some way they handle it better because they don't have a panicked adult mind yet. She is probably still very grateful for your presence in the hardest part of her life.